Last month—at the end of May, really—I started a new project, the Ranch on Mars. The idea was to harness some of the tricks of psychology that I’ve seen exploited at work to try to make meaningful improvements in my own life. With the first month of tracking progress behind me, I think it’s a good time to evaluate not only my progress, but the means of measuring them. I learned a few things about my own brain, which I can hardly say is a bad thing.

First, the good news. I was able to successfully complete two of my four goals for the month, and in both cases by better than an expected margin. With the regular introduction of money into my various savings accounts, I saw a good increase in our financial cushion in case of disaster. A two-hundred dollar deposit into my stock account combined with the dividends of the last quarter to make enough of a cash sum on hand to make a stock purchase that would keep my commission rate under three percent, which is pretty good. Two percent or less would be optimal, but that’s going to take larger sums than I can currently drop. Getting to work early means that, at least in theory, I get out of work early. This has helped me spend less time on the road because now I’m no longer stuck in rush hour traffic as often or as long. That’s definitely had a positive impact on my quality of life, especially with summer heat. On the whole, I think I did really well on the goals that I completed.

Now, the downside. My weight actually went up month-to-month, and I made absolutely no headway at all on my novel this month. These are both disappointing, but I’m trying not to be too bummed about them. It means I didn’t earn the DSLite I’d been wanting, but oddly I don’t feel that I’m denying myself something or living the ascetic’s life. Did it mean I didn’t want one badly enough? I don’t think so. The weight difference in my purse alone will be an improvement, and I admit some amount of wanting the cool toy that my wife has. So, what happened to keep me from achieving these when the other two came so easily?

As far as the writing goes, I really do think that City of Heroes takes a large part of the blame for this. It’s very easy to simply come home and slump in a chair and zone out in front of a game, doubly so when one has had a really shitty day at work, and I’ve had a lot of shitty days this last month. My team lead was out of pocket a good part of the month because of personal issues—a death in the family on top of scheduled vacation—and so I’ve had to step up unexpectedly and serve as head of projects that I had expected someone else to be managing. This has meant that, despite getting into the office at 08h00 or even 07h45 on some mornings, I didn’t get to leave work until 17h00 or later. In one case, I was still at work as late as 19h30. This had a huge negative impact on my desire to do anything other than lump when I got home in the evenings, and City of Heroes is just interactive enough to make me feel like I’m being at least mildly creative even if all I’m doing is spinning my gears.

This isn’t to say I did nothing creative last month. I’ve been working on what could really best be classified as “fan fiction”, even though the characters are my own creation. They just happen to be set in the City of Heroes setting, and thus are utterly non-publishable unless I feel like going back and ripping large chunks of history apart. They’re also mostly collaborations, which mean that I don’t have sole ownership of any of the works. It’s creativity, but it’s not progress on my novel, which is what I really hoped to achieve. Still, it’s been good to at least keep writing, even if it’s not writing that furthers my goal of being published.

Finally on the creative front, Jessie made an observation that I think bears further exploration. I do most of my creative writing when I’m not at home. I’d never noticed this before, but I think she’s onto something here. In the past, most of my short works happened when I was in the computer lab on campus. The biggest chunks of Child of Man appeared when I was on trips of one sort or another. I added half a chapter and four-thousand words across previous parts over Anthrocon. I had actually set the goal of finishing chapter twelve anticipating a trip to Seattle last month, and then the trip was delayed. This actually did throw my plans for creative writing for a bit of a loop. The trip’s been rescheduled for next month, which should give me some time to actually work on my novel in peace, but it will also give me the chance to get some other bits of writing done that I’ve been delaying. This also makes me wonder, though, if it wouldn’t be beneficial to plan to take regular evenings out to a coffee shop or some other home-away-from-home with my laptop to give myself the chance to work on stories. Maybe even a weekend trip out to a motel somewhere on the interstate just to write might benefit me.

As far as the weight goes, there are so many things I could blame here that it would sound not like a reasoned discussion but instead a laundry list of excuses. This said, however, I think I know what the largest factor of my failure here was. There is no direct correlation between what I eat and what I weigh. Now, that sounds like an absolute load of bulldada, and it is, but within it lies the key to the answer. Consider the following scenario:

  • Day one, morning: I weigh myself and my weight is X.
  • Day one, afternoon, I eat something unhealthy.
  • Day two, morning, I weigh myself and my weight is X-n.
  • Day two, all day, I eat reasonably and moderately.
  • Day three, morning, I weigh myself and my weight is X again.

This happens mo
re often than I think anyone really realizes, and it’s not exactly rocket science. Many things have an impact on day-to-day weight, not the least of which is how much fluid I’ve had to drink. A gallon as compared to a half-gallon of diet tea at work could easily make up the difference in those numbers. So could sweating out a lot of water, or a second bowl of curry, or skipping the toast in favor of the bagel. Whatever. The point is not the specifics, but rather the psychological impact of these events. Eating something bad didn’t hurt me, because my weight dropped. Eating well didn’t help me, because my weight rose. This sends all kinds of mixed signals that reinforce bad behaviors and punish good ones, and that’s a surefire way to undermine positive performance.

So, what’s the solution? The scale is the only measuring tool I have, and its accuracy as a measuring device is suspect. Then again… is it the only tool? I do have another means of measuring weight impact: intake. Specifically, calorie load. Does this mean I’m going to be counting calories? In a word, yes. Why? Because it’s more reliable than the scale. The scale makes a good trailing indicator. Does the moving average say I’m going down in weight? Then I’m eating right. Does it say I’m going up? Then I need to re-evaluate what I’m eating. The food, though, is a pretty good leading indicator. If I eat that ice cream bar, I’m going to need fat jeans. If I skip that second bowl of rice, I may fit into the top I’ve owned for six months that I can’t wear without feeling ugly despite the pretty color.

This next month is going to suck. However, hopefully it will pay off in the long run.

As a side note, I’m not blind to the effects of exercise on weight and health, but after my trike got stolen, I took a real hit in morale. Getting out and walking, especially in the summer, is just no fun. The trike was fun, and that got removed through no fault of my own other than perhaps not keeping it under a laser cage. I had two DDR pads, one mine and one Kitana’s on extended loan, but one got broken at Anthrocon and the other is so close to falling apart that it’s not really reliable any more, and bad feedback is more frustrating than no feedback at all. I’ve rearranged the furniture in the living room to provide space for a replacement pad once I buy it, but I do have to buy it first. Jessie and I have talked about getting exercise bikes to ride together, but we’d have to find a good place to put them. I could walk around the warehouse during the day, but that’s hotter than doing it outside, and the overhead fans just stir up the hot air and make breathing a privilege instead of a right.

So, in recap:

  • I didn’t achieve my goals in July by a large enough margin to justify buying the DSLite for myself.
  • I have a pretty good idea why I didn’t achieve the two I missed.
  • I have my goals for August based on what I learned in July.

I still feel a bit like a perfect damn fool putting myself through this, but at the same time, I think it’s helped me, even if just a little bit. I saved two hundred dollars I wouldn’t have otherwise. I’m getting to work at 08h00 without a struggle, and I’m setting my sights on 07h45 and thinking “Hey, I can maybe even push myself back to 07h00 one day!” I’m feeling more focused on my weight issues than I ever have during the whole time I was on Atkins/low-carb/whatever. I don’t feel like my novel is some far-off one-day thing any more. I’m making progress, a step at a time.

A true initiation never ends.


In other news, as hinted above, I’m going to be going on a business trip next week. Seattle—Bellevue, specifically—this time, for two weeks. I leave Monday morning, and I return Friday a week later. That’s eleven days in the PacNorWest. Anyone reading this who’ll be around during that time, please let me know. I’d love the chance to find out who my potential neighbors are.

That’s right. Potential neighbors. My stated purpose for the trip to Seattle is training at the hands of somebody who has a decade of experience in our primary software package, but I do have an ulterior motive for going. Last week, I applied for a position in the Enterprise Monitoring group in the Bothell office. My manager knows and supports the transition, as does the person with whom I’ll be training. Everyone that I’ve told so far has been positive about it. Now I can but hope that the hiring manager is as supportive.

This wasn’t the way this was supposed to happen. I really hadn’t planned on looking for work in Seattle until 2008 or so. I’d figured I’d get one of my two mortgages paid in full, rack up some living capital under my belt, apply for a position, and make a nice leisurly transition from one coast to the other. I had a few years yet in Pottstown to get some sense of stability in my life. I really did think that this is how things woul dhappen, and I planned accordingly.

Then I came in contact with the event horizon of the Luck Plane.

As fate would have it, a friend of mine is looking for work. Knowing he has a degree in psychology, I suggested he apply for one of the many open manager positions at the distribution center. He asked me for a requisition number—the unique ID given to the position itself so that applications can be tracked more easily—and when I went into the company jobs website, I happened to notice an open position for my same analyst grade in a team that does work interesting to me in a location to which I’ve said I wanted to go. So, after a quick consultation with Jessie, I put in an application. I didn’t really go looking for this opening so much as I found it, as one might find a dollar bill on the sidewalk, or a cake.

On Friday, my manager presented me with the name of the recruiter for the position, and that afternoon I called her. When I told her that I had applied, and that I’d be in Seattle for training in a week, she said that it would probably be a great chance for me to interview, and that if things went really well, I could have an answer on whether or not I got the job before I left for Pottstown again. On the whole, she sounded really positive, though she did warn me that T-Mobile doesn’t pay to relocate people in the COS team. That means I’d have to pay for my own move, but I told her that I was fine with that. She wished me luck in my application process and said she’d see what she could do to escalate the timetable for my interview so that I could plan on taking care of that while I was already there.

I’m in what feels a bit like uncharted territory here. The plans I had made are now potentially in total disarray. I’ve never tried to sell a house before. I’ve moved cross-country, but I had a place I knew I was staying when I arrived. I don’t know what kind of timetables exist or are proper to request to get all of these details resolved. I haven’t even gotten the job and I’m worrying about what to do if I get it. I’ve had serioua stomach-twitches all weekend over it.

On the other hand, of course, is the fact that even if this had waited until 2008, I probably would still be going through all of these sensations. Doubtless I would not have gone looking for answers until I needed them, and even now I may not. If I don’t get the job, nothing has changed. If I do get it, it’s something I’ve said I wanted, and I really do think the move is for the best. Pennsylvania is nice, but the weather here is still horribly unpleasant during the summer, as our current hundred-degree heatwave will demonstrate. The neighborhood in general is not a good area in which to live. The culture in Seattle, so I have heard, is far more like what I think Jessie and I are seeking as far as standing community. If nothing else, the job opportunities within T-Mobile are better at the corporate headquarters than they could ever hope to be at the warehouse. I want very much to believe this is a move in the right direction.

Do I sound like I’m trying to convince myself? I am, sort of. When I felt like I had no chance to get out of my current situation, I’ve said repeatedly that I wanted to get into a corporate environment again. Now that I’m facing the chance to get it, I’m suddenly unsure. I don’t think this is a change in what I want, or in what I think I want, as much as it’s a case of cold feet. I’m no longer standing on the side of the pool, looking up at the high dive and saying I wish I could do a back flip. I’m now standing on the diving board looking down at the water and realizing what a long drop it really is. If I climb back down, I’ll still want it just as much, and I’ll have added to it the “shame” of having run from it, but that doesn’t make it any less nervewracking.

Still, for now the best approach is Zen. The interview hasn’t happened yet. The interview may not happen this trip. I may not know anything soon. Until it happens, guessing about the future is needless anxiety. Relax and enjoy.

Tomorrow does not exist. Twenty tomorrows is a long time.